How Buffer Management Improves Project Performance

Buffer and Project Management

How Buffer Management Improves Project Performance

  Buffer Management

“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes

Variability is a fact of life!

The first image in this post is from an actual project that I managed using Microsoft Project Professional 2010 and the ProChain add-on. This was also my first time using Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) instead of the normal critical path methodology that is common in the market today.

The greatest benefit I received from using CCPM as my project management methodology is visibility into how I use slack or buffer on my project. I also incorporated a specific planning process that ensured that I include the full scope of work from my project’s charter, WBS and project team; this is called Network Building. My project team benefited by gaining insight into the critical integration points that could cause major delays in executing the initiative. Although we hoped for the best and planned for the worst, we experienced a tremendous amount of variability (the worst scenario) which we all know is a fact of life. Here are some of the challenges that we encountered:

  • Delays with on boarding my vendor and consultants
  • Our hardware vendor placed the wrong order and could not deliver the required hardware until 2 weeks after I needed the solution.
  • A member of the consulting teams family needed to relocate because of the floods in the Midwest which pulled him off the project for 2 weeks.
  • We experienced scope creep and code development delays and issues. We missed 2 critical deadlines because of code or configuration issues.
  • My brother, who was 5 years older than I, passed away.
  • Another team member got married and went on a 2 week honeymoon.

All of these challenges created the buffer image at the top of this post. What saved us from total disaster? We used the processes and procedures that are core to any key CCPM project. Each task has only two estimates:

  1. Highly Probable (Estimate C)      
  2. Aggressive But Possible (Estimate B)


  1. The project buffer is calculated by removing the slack or buffer from each individual task and aggregating it into the project buffer.
  2. We watched and managed the project buffer like a HAWK!

 What’s the point?

  1. Task variability is protected by an aggregated buffer. The project buffer is divided into three sections so that the project team can measure when to relax, when to plan and when to act on our plan to recover the project.


  Buffer Zones

  1. Buffer Management provides better visibility into how the project team will us the slack or buffer in the project. In critical path management, project slack is distributed within each task which normally is used by the project team to accomplish other tasks until the current task has to be delivered, this is called student syndrome. This usually results in a misuse of the project’s buffer because the buffer is not visible at the project level but only within each task.
Gerald J. Leonard

Gerald J. Leonard is an international expert on the topics of Developing A Culture That Works, Strategy Implementation, and Project Portfolio Management. He is the author of Culture Is The Bass: 7 Principles for Developing A Culture That Works, and the upcoming book, Workplace Jazz: How Emotionally Connected Teams Thrive and Sustain Results. He is the CEO of Principles of Execution (PofE), a Certified Minority Business Enterprise with over 20+ years experiencing working with large Federal and State Governments and Multi-National Corporations. Gerald provides an insightful and unique way of combining his experience and expertise as a professional bassist and a certified Portfolio Management Professional consultant. Find out how you can work with Gerald as your business coach or attend one of his upcoming programs